Editor's note: The author has offered clarifications in response to some initial reactions to this essay in a separate piece, here.
About two years ago, Professor John Crosby penned a sibylline warning to Catholics planning to vote for Trump in the 2016 election. He cautioned that they'd pay a "huge price" for the benefits of their bargain, and that the severity of Trump's "manifold malignancy" on American public life would be hard to measure. "Count the cost," he urged.
But for many, what Crosby called a "toxic mix of incompetence, ignorance, indecency, thugishness, trashiness, and psychological pathology" ensured just the right amount of corrosive potential—to undermine a rotten Washington establishment in favor of something renewed and reborn.
Now, it's almost certain that Crosby's prognosis has been all but fulfilled in Judge Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings. Whatever acrimony defined the political landscape in November 2016, the hell that's been unleashed in 2018 is far worse. What's more, each separate dimension of Crosby's portended "costs" have also been manifested in nearly irrefutable detail.
To put it absolutely plainly: Kavanaugh's supreme court confirmation process—the very eventuality for which so many pro-lifers held their noses at the polls—has both enshrined Trumpian sexual deviancy in the pantheon of American ideals, and, at the same time, has rendered pro-life politics itself finally and utterly worthless.
Legitimized sexual deviancy
As for enshrining sexual deviancy, this should be fairly obvious. Trump won the presidency on the heels of a number of sexually explicit and indecent revelations. To quote Crosby:
His celebrity, he boasts, puts women at his disposal. He takes delight in making aggressive sexual advances towards them, intimidating them with his fame. He likes to use and then discard them, as his disordered libido prompts him.
Yet Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings have shown that the sexual deviancy of pro-life judges too can be legitimized, if only for the possible reversal of pro-abortion legislation. Even if Kavanaugh is innocent of the charges of sexual assault that Christine Blasey Ford and others have raised, the partisan opportunism and vindictiveness that motivates his appointment is more than clear. And if, God forbid, Kavanaugh ends up being shown to be guilty of them, that legitimization will appear, and in fact be, all the more sinister.
'Pro-life' is politically incoherent
In his thought experiment-turned-reality, Crosby asks:
Should Christians just make peace with this anti-Christian ethos, for the sake of possible pro-life judicial appointments? Will not four or eight years of a leader who despises the vulnerable strike a blow at the heart of the pro-life movement? Will this not undermine our efforts to build a culture of life?
Just as importantly, however, the mob rule in our present social climate will ensure, philosophically, that political discourse about a culture of life is irreparably stunted. Even if Roe were overturned, the number of chemical abortions will continue to rise; they'll be virtually untraceable, and indistinguishable for most people from contraception. Eventually they'll simply replace conventional, "medical" abortions altogether. The likelihood of persuading a vast majority of Americans, who are already eager to give exceptions for abortion in certain cases, that this is morally problematic is beyond grave. Not because it's not scientifically compelling or reasonable, but because after ceding all the moral high ground in the pursuit of political advantage, the pro-life movement will have simply walked over an ethical cliff.
'Death and decline of democracy'
Trump's presidency didn't arise in a vacuum. And it's not ultimately the cause of what former supreme court justice Anthony Kennedy recently called the "death and decline of democracy." It's all just the effects. As Kennedy pointed out, "enlightened civic discourse" is what's missing. That's what's required to make American democracy work in each generation, and to pass it on from one generation to the next.
Discourse—and more profoundly, dialogue and dialectic—are exactly the things we need to pursue if we're to avoid falling into the traps of either political reductionism or total despair. Professor Crosby's position, somewhere apart from both Clinton and Trump in the heat of an historic election, was unsatisfying to many precisely because it took dialectic—and indeed, Christian hope—more seriously than seemed realistic. Yet in fact, Crosby and those like him are the only sensible political realists, since only for them are both American democracy and a culture of life equally and mutually possible.